Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882 A.D.) coined the word OVER-SOUL while a divinity student at Harvard University. The word comes from the Greek word, Psyche, meaning "the Soul" and Huper, meaning "over" or "hyper." This name was readily acceptable to global students, of all faiths, as a generic, non-sectarian term meaning "over abiding presence" i.e., the Creator. The philosophical concept was developed by the Greek philosopher Plato (427-347 B.C.). He affirmed the existence of absolute goodness, which he characterized as something beyond description and as knowable ultimately only through intuition. Religious philosophers applied this concept of transcendence to Divinity, maintaining that God can be neither described nor understood in terms that are taken from human experience.
The belief in a "higher power" sometimes referred to as Supreme Intelligence, has been well established from the beginning of time, throughout all the civilizations of the world. The earliest cave drawings evidence the searching heart of Mankind in the intuitive visualizations of a "higher power" --- the unseen Creator and administrator of Nature. Every successive civilization of the world has asserted beliefs in an unseen reality transcending the known which they assert may be approached through a variety of prescribed means. How can one define that which is universal, yet not uniform?
Emerson believed that Reason, the highest capacity of mind, was a sensitive receiver of universal signals of meaning, that once we allow our understanding to inform our reason, we make Nature serve our character, which is expressed by the higher aspects of human life, namely philosophy, religion, art, morals, ethics and culture. It is only when human life in its guise as civilization ignores the Laws of Nature that we fail and fall into chaos. War, repression, depressions, plagues, and revolutions all result from this ignorance or denial of Universal Law as seen through the workings and symbols of Nature.
The Over-Soul is Emerson's celebration of the mystery of the human soul in matter and its mysterious existence as "part and particle" with the eternal One. The image of the "One" or the essential unity of the universe that is the Absolute is a concept which is both Eastern and Neoplatonic. Emerson describes this One as infusing all of the life and forming the nature of human nature. It is God emanating through-out the universe and concentrating his nature in human consciousness.
His vision made it necessary, however, that revelation be essential to human experience. If it were not, then all religious faith would be dependent upon the past, as reported in the sacred texts and passed down from one cultural group to another, to the end that the essential vitality would be lost forever. This kind of secondary transmission would mean that all revelation was of necessity collective, referring to a people and not to individuals.
In 1836, free thinking men and women from the New England area began having meetings to discuss the philosophical and socio-economic changes they envisioned for a changing cultural narrative in the United States. This informal group, led by Ralph Waldo Emerson, consisted of Dr. Frederick Henry Hedge, Margaret Fuller, George Ripley, Convers Francis, Theodore Parker, Bronson Alcott, James Clarke, and Orestes Brownson. The assemblage became known as the Hedge Group, or as it was sometimes called, the Transcendental Club. They created the publication known as "The Dial" to make their philosophy known to the public.
The publication went on to become the main source of poetry, prose, and literary writings of the time. In the next three or four decades, most of the liturgy, philosophical, social, and religious leaders of New England were connected in one way or another with this transition from conformity. These diverse philosophies would eventually become the great American consciousness and lead directly to the loosening of the traditional theological tenets and ecclesiastical structures of the major Protestant denominations, particularly the Baptism, Methodism, and Presbyterianism as they established Evangelical missions to win converts among the general population.
Transcendentalism has been identified with the monastic mind set as it has invested itself upon monks going all the way back to the time of St. Ambrose of Milan (347-397 A.D.) and St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.); the New Testament writers before them, and indeed virtually all of the Old Testament writers. The whole being sometimes referred to as the Judeo-Christian transcendentalist ethic, the asserted basis of all United States Law. Countless encyclopedias, bibles, dictionaries, philosophical and technological articles, books, theses, testaments and even gospels have been written on this subject.
"That Unity, that OVER-SOUL, within every man's particular being is contained and made with all other; that common heart, of which all sincere conversation is the worship, to which all right action is submission; that over-powering Reality which confutes our tricks and talents, and constrains every one to pass for what he is, and to speak from his character; and not from his tongue, and which evermore tends to pass into our thought and hand, and becomes wisdom, and virtue, and power and the whole; and wise silence, the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal One." Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson's friend Noah Webster included the word OVERSOUL in his dictionary; Oversoul (n) "the spiritual element of the universe which is infinite and from which finite souls draw their being and support. Merrian Webster's 10th Collegiate Edition defines Oversoul as "the absolute reality and basis of all that exists, conceived as a spiritual being in which the ideal nature imperfectly manifests in human beings and is perfectly realized.
Many of the notables of history added their names to the long list of Americans who have embraced the concepts and teachings of Emerson. Such names as Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Helen Keller, Frank Lloyd Wright, John Muir, and Johnny Appleseed --- are just a few. Mahatma Gandhi, read Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" and named India's non-violent struggle for independence Satyagraha (in protest against civil and religious abuses); Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about how he became fascinated with Thoreau's view of the government and used it as the basis for his civil rights movement. Literary efforts inspired the words given to such songs as The Battle Hymn of the Republic by James Freeman Clarke and Juliet Ward Howe, and America the Beautiful by Samuel Grey Ward.
Emerson's Oversoul has become a philosophical teaching as well as an Associative Religion, tracing its roots all the way back to the writings of Job, Moses, Plato, Socrates, Kant, Hagel, Eckhart, and Swedenborg. While the American "common belief system" was advanced by Emerson in his essays: Over-soul, Nature and Self-Reliance, the transcendental thoughts go back to 1517, the Reformation and Martin Luther, which affirmed the justification of faith within the inner man.
Emerson taught that the basic concept of religion, received from our forefathers, was the inalienable ability of an individual to communicate with his/her Creator, one on one, in Nature. Emerson felt that moderns seem able only to see those things through the eyes of the earlier generations. "Why, " he asks --- and the question is intended to shatter our complacency --- "Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the Universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?"
Over-Soul religiosity has essentially evolved into a moral philosophy, an idealistic system of thought based upon the belief in the essential unity of all creation, the innate goodness of man, the supremacy of insight over logic and experience for the revelation of the deepest truths. Oversoul religiosity proclaims the dignity of the individual; cuts the roots of institutional tyranny; and turns the mind to imagination, hope, exploration and self-reliance. This philosophy embodies the very essence of American values and is taught in virtually every Western University of the free world.
The Oversoul Associative Religion is then a direct extension of these original "free thinkers" who embraced the teachings and open mindedness associated with a New Consciousness and Spirituality which has been "institutionalized" into a World Religion. From the beginning of the Oversoul, men and women of all races have played a prominent role in developing this Spirituality. The Oversoul continues to encourage openness, and in so doing is an advocate and embraces diversity --- of age, race, ethnicity, gender, economic status, abilities and marital status.
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